Why do books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly sell millions of copies while sound, balanced nutritional advice is ignored? How can the vegan and plant-based message be simplified?
I often wonder to myself why the Paleo movement wins a lot of supporters. The science suggesting a plant-based diet is healthiest is extensive.
Yet the Paleo Diet seems to grow more and more popular everyday. Are people seeing the science condemning animal products and ignoring it?
Not a fair fight.
Unfortunately, the “battle” over hearts and minds of American eaters is not a fair fight. Imagine a scenario:
You are interested in improving your health, and you google information about healthy diets. Maybe you stumble upon a post about the world’s Blue Zones, areas of extreme longevity. You learn that these people all consume plant-based diets (See my post Blue Zones: How To Live To 100 Years!).
You then go on to search for more information about plant-based nutrition. You find nutritionfacts.org, the work of Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and are surprised to learn about the benefits of eating a whole foods plant-based diet.
Yet, something deep within you is worried. Maybe there is a nagging concern over protein, or some other nutrient.
But maybe it’s more basic than that. Maybe you are just super bummed that you have to give up meat, dairy, and eggs to follow this diet. You don’t want to do that! Those are your three favorite food groups!
Discouraged that so much science points toward this pattern of eating for preventing and reversing disease, you continue to google for alternative theories.
This is when you stumble upon the Paleo camp.
Eureka! A diet that not only allows me to eat meat, but tells me it is “the most nutrient dense food on the planet!” Now this I can get on board with!
Nevermind the glaring lack of practicing physicians treating their patients with this diet (like Drs. Esselstyn, McDougall, and Ornish do with plant-based vegan diets), or any long-term studies showing it’s benefit in treating and reversing chronic disease.
That doesn’t bother you as long as someone is telling you that meat is in fact good for you and should be the center of your plate!
You keep reading, and since there needs to be a scapegoat, you start to believe that the only problem in the American diet is sugar. Sugar is supposedly the only cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in America. And since all carbohydrates break down into sugar, you start to believe that whole grains, beans, and yes, even fruit, cause obesity!
Nevermind the fact that Americans eat more meat, more cheese, more saturated fat than any other nation on planet Earth. It’s gotta be the carbs, man.
Paleo has a distinct advantage in winning the hearts and minds of discouraged, confused, unhealthy eaters. Paleo tells you we are designed to eat animals, and celebrates these foods as the centerpiece of a “healthy” diet.
Vegan and plant-based tells you the truth – that we are not suited for these foods, they don’t do our bodies any good, we can get everything we need from plants, and that those who follow plant-based diets live the longest lives of any human beings on the planet!
I believe that we will win.
I believe the truth will win. But it’s an uphill battle, because people love to hear good news about their bad habits. Vegan activists have an uphill battle because we are trying to take away foods that people love (or more accurately persuade people to take them away themselves).
But the vegan and plant-based lifestyle can be aspirational as well.
The stories of transformation, the 30, 40, 50, 100, 200 pounds lost, the skin clearing up, the energy boost, the athletic performances, the compassion for animals, the lighter load on the environment, all make this lifestyle aspirational.
Celebrate the good that your lifestyle provides. Yes, we have to talk about taking away beloved foods, but never forget that in their place comes a whole new world of incredible benefit.
You might be surprised to learn that there are very few times in my life where I have felt truly restricted by being vegan. I am often asked if I find myself in situations where there is just nothing for me to eat, and to be perfectly honest, they are very few and far between.
But they do happen.
I think I am a bit spoiled. I first went vegan back in 2012, and now in 2015 it is pretty easy. I think to some of the vegan pioneers, like Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Michael Greger who went vegan in the late 70s and early 90s, respectively. I always wonder how much they struggled with it.
Of course in 2015, being vegan is super easy, if you live in cities, and if you have friends and family that are at least interested in health. If you live in rural areas, you can obviously still find plenty of vegan groceries (there will always be fresh produce, canned beans, rice, etc), but eating out may be a challenge.
And that is really the point. The only times I have ever felt truly limited by my vegan/plant-based diet is when I am eating outside of the home. So for McDougall and Greger, they may have struggled to find vegan-friendly restaurants, but they surely had zero trouble eating vegan at home.
So from a global perspective, being vegan is challenging only in the social aspects. Eating out, being among friends with very different diets, picking restaurants, social gatherings, etc. The not eating meat, dairy, and eggs thing is the easy part. It’s the enjoyable part. It’s the part that makes you feel fantastic every single day, full of energy.
Let’s talk about when it’s hard.
I am currently in Washington, D.C., staying with friends and searching for an apartment. Yesterday we attended the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which every year features the culture of a foreign nation, with music, artwork, performances, dancers, and of course cuisine.
This year’s featured country is Peru. I have been to Peru, and have traveled and lived in neighboring Ecuador. I felt like I knew a thing or two going into it about the type of food I would find.
I was eager to eat some authentic beans and rice!
But alas, the featured cuisine was less the traditional fare, and more what food has become in Peru. It was mostly grilled meats and french fries, which is very common now in Ecuador and Peru. I should have known better, but alas, no beans and rice were to be found.
Finally we found a place that had an avocado-quinoa-veggie salad. It looked awesome. But upon ordering, I asked if there was any dairy in the dish, only to find out it was covered in mayo. Eggs. Can’t do it.
A self-imposed food desert.
It is in moments like these (that happen really only once a year or so) that I felt like I was living in a self-imposed food desert. Food was in abundance around me, but none of it was an option. And I was starving.
I popped into the Native American Museum because I had heard the food was outstanding and figured there’d be some great wild rice dishes. All of it had bison. Some of it had cheese. It was a bastardized version of Native American food.
I ended with a food cart pretzel.
Not healthy, not what I was craving, but I needed fuel.
Sometimes, being vegan is hard.
I don’t want to sugar coat the experience. Sometimes, though not often, being vegan is hard. For literally 99.9% of the calories I consume, it is incredibly easy and undeniably enjoyable to be vegan. But those 1 in 1000 meals, 1 in 1000 moments, you have nothing to eat.
But that is not unique to being vegan. If you consider yourself a healthy eater and an omnivore, you will find yourself in the same situation as me. Surrounded by food, none of it healthy, and you might choose to not eat any of it.
This problem is not unique to being vegan. It is unique to caring about your health. Eating healthy is so abnormal in America that if you truly stand up for your personal health and commit to only eating healthfully, you will find yourself in situations where you have nothing to eat. That’s ok. Get the pretzel, get the fries, do what you have to do, and take pride in your decision to stand up for what is important to you, to the animals, and to the planet.
Many people are motivated by reducing animal suffering, drastically cutting their greenhouse gas impact, and improving their personal health to adopt a vegan and plant-based diet. However it can be tough to know where to begin!
When you give up meat, dairy, and eggs, what do you eat?? Is it all just salad? I thought I’d share some of my main starter tips! Hope you enjoy! Leave me a comment with more questions and ideas for future videos 🙂
I get this question a lot so I thought I’d address it here: if you are following a whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) vegan diet, is it OK to eat some fake animal products, like fake chicken, fake cheese, or fake ice cream?
Let’s start with the good:
Meat substitutes contain zero cholesterol, no animal fat, no animal protein. Just by virtue of what they do not contain, they are leaps and bounds healthier than actual animal flesh.
A study on low-carb diets found that those following the traditional Atkins style of eating (high animal fat and protein and low plant-foods) raised their risk of all-cause mortality, while those following what was known as the “Eco-Atkins” Diet — a plant-based low-carb diet that uses lots of tofu but also plenty of meat substitutes — showed a lower risk of all-cause mortality. (SOURCE)
To me that study is actually pretty shocking. It suggests that in many ways, health can come just from the absence of animal products, almost regardless of what is substituted. Compared to the baseline American, who eats their fair share of meat and dairy, those who double down (Atkins) do way worse, and those who cut that stuff out and replace it with a processed meat substitute with no fiber and potentially little other nutrients (Eco-Atkins based on meat substitutes) do better.
So, plant-based meat substitutes are better for you than meat, and can be a part of a healthy diet. But wait…
As I just mentioned, most meat substitutes are still not as packed with nutrients as whole plant foods. Which brings up a good point — they are technically not whole plant foods. They surely are made using plants, but they are indeed a processed food. Fake chicken tenders don’t grow on any trees I’ve seen.
Therefore by many people’s standards they are absolutely NOT OK on a whole-foods plant-based diet.
Here’s where I disagree.
1. They taste great. And this is incredibly important for people transitioning to a vegan diet. The taste is undeniable, and my family’s favorites from Gardein pass muster with current meat eaters and vegans alike. Finding tasty animal product alternatives is important to health.
2. They are better for the environment. Growing plants for human consumption is always more efficient than growing them to feed to an animal to then eat. It’s just thermodynamics. So while the main thrust of a WFPB diet is health, we cannot deny the immense ecological health benefits of a meat substitute versus actual meat. Strictly from an environmental perspective I am a big fan of using meat substitutes. (Watch Cowspiracy for more)
3. They are infinitely better for the animals. This one is obvious.
So with those three reasons, I am 100% comfortable with them making up a portion of your WFPB diet. Is following a WFPB diet as simple as taking a Standard American Diet and swapping in meat substitutes for the meat, dairy subs for the dairy, etc?
Of course not! Removing chicken from your diet, for example, and adding in black beans in its place is a far better choice than adding in Gardein Chick’n. But adding the Gardein is far better than keeping the actual bird. It’s a hierarchy, and whole plant-foods always win, but don’t discount the role that substitutes play.
And for those most concerned with their health above all else, I think the Eco-Atkins case study should be comforting. As long as the animal products are off the plate, you are doing ok. We can always strive for perfection, but we cannot demand it of ourselves, and sometimes a good fake-chicken sandwich can be satisfying — especially to those who are new to this lifestyle!
Embrace the substitutes and use appropriately.
Again, this isn’t to say that your job is done by simply swapping substitutes for the real deal. But for the times you are jonesing, or you have a newly vegan friend, I would highly recommend the following products that all taste great and can fool your meat-eating friends:
- Gardein Chik’n, Fish Fillets, and Burgers (sold at Target and Whole Foods)
- Beyond Meat Beast Burger (more protein than beef)
- Coconut Bliss Ice Cream and coconut yogurt
- Almond Dream Ice Cream
- Any plant-based milk (almond, soy, coconut, hemp, rice)
- Tofurky Deli Slices and Brats
In what is possibly the most compelling argument that human beings are plant-eaters, the people in the five Blue Zones of the globe all eat a diet that is mostly plants.
Let’s back up. First, what are Blue Zones?
The Blue Zones are regions of anomalous longevity. In other words, they are demographically significant regions of Planet Earth where the human beings live longer than anywhere else. In fact, people in these regions are ten times more likely to live to 100 than people in the United States!
And not only do these people live the longest lives of anyone on Earth, they also live the most disease-free years, and the vast majority die suddenly of old-age! Sounds good to me!
After years of studying birth and death records, Dan Buettner and his team at National Geographic settled on five distinct regions with scientifically verified longevity. There were many regions considered, but due to incomplete birth and death records many could not be verified.
The five regions are: Loma Linda, California, USA; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan.
Five very different regions geographically with one thing in common — the humans here live the longest of anywhere on Earth.
What Do They Eat?
Perhaps most surprising is that the people in each of these very culturally different regions eat a diet that is very similar in one key way: 95-98% of their daily calories come from whole plants! In Okinawa, nearly 60% of their calories come from sweet potatoes alone!
This of course means that in none of the regions are the people completely vegan, and that’s OK! I’d suspect if they were 100% vegan they might see just the slightest uptick in their life expectancy. But that’s not the point — the point is they eat way more plants than we do!
Either way this should be good news! You don’t have to entirely give up meat and animal products to experience outstanding longevity! You do, however, have to commit to the vast majority of your calories coming from whole plant foods. If you ate a 2,000 calorie diet this means just 100 daily calories from animal sources. That’s not a lot!
When the average American consumes just 5% of their calories from whole plant foods, this can be equally as daunting as the prospect of a fully vegan plant-based diet! (SOURCE)
Factors Beyond Diet
Now to be sure, there are other factors beyond just diet that produce longevity. In fact, there are nine! And while you’ll have to buy Buettner’s latest book to find out all nine (and how to implement them in your life), I can tell you that two additional key elements are physical activity and social relationships. Check out The Blue Zones Solution for more.
In each of the five Blue Zones, physical activity is a big component of their lifestyle. In the United States and many other developed nations, we have literally engineered the activity out of our day — the elevator instead of the stairs; the remote control for the tv; the desk-based occupations, etc. Yet in the Blue Zones, communities are incredibly walkable and occupations are active. People don’t really exercise deliberately — they just move more.
Could it be that diet has nothing to do with it and it’s just a matter of physical activity? I suppose it’s possible, though by that logic you’d figure there would be very active communities who eat meat-heavy diets making the cut, and that just isn’t so!
The second major component is social relationships. Many of the people in the Blue Zones maintain the same friendships for all 90 to 100+ years of their lives! That’s pretty incredible! In our modern world of isolated work, social media, and television, it is safe to say that we do not emphasize social relationships as much as we used to and probably should!
There are several other factors that go into the makings of a Blue Zone, and to be sure diet isn’t the only component. However it appears to be the undeniable cornerstone of their longevity. And as I started out saying, in what is possibly the most compelling evidence we have that we are meant to eat mostly (or all!) plants, each of the longest living communities on Planet Earth eat at least 1,900 of their 2,000 daily calories from whole plant foods!!!
Human beings are plant eaters, and when we emphasize these foods we are designed to eat, we are rewarded with disease-free longevity. Go Plant-Based Today!
In my last post I talked about the reality of the seafood industry, and the ultimate conclusion that There Is No Such Thing As Sustainable Seafood. After reading the post, a reader commented that it seemed as though no food was safe from the ill fate of a damning article.
It is true that if you follow health and wellness websites on the internet, you can find an article blasting just about every single food known to man. Some are warranted (those writing against animal products from an ecological, health, and animal rights perspective) and others, I would argue, are much more misguided (“Gluten: Cause of All Health Problems Today!”).
However the comment held a lot of truth. The reader expressed an all-too-common frustration these days that it seemed impossible to know what is safe to eat anymore! You hear great things about seafood for your health, so to hear about the environmental catastrophe that it causes is disheartening!
Is no food safe?
While any food that has its origins in the industrial food system likely has at least one blemish on its record, there are places to start and rules to follow for safe, clean, healthy eating. So in the interest of a more positive discussion this week, let’s talk about foods you can (and should!) eat with pride.
By a mile, the safest foods you can possibly eat are foods you’ve grown yourself, in your own backyard. In no other setting can you have the level of control that you do in your own backyard. Don’t like supporting foods grown with pesticides and artificial fertilizers? Don’t buy them or spray your plants!
Don’t want to exploit animals? Grow fruits and vegetables without the help of horses to till your garden!
Don’t want to exploit migrant farmworkers? Pick your own produce!
Yes, the least controversial place on planet Earth to eat from is your own garden. If you have any — and I mean ANY — space on which you could place a garden, do so. (If you don’t check out public gardens in your area and apply for a plot!).
Growing your own food is close to printing money, and it will be the freshest, best tasting, and possibly most nutritious food you’ll ever eat!
The next least controversial (and most safe) location to purchase food is from a local farm. There are two main ways to do this: farmers markets and joining a CSA (community supported agriculture).
Chances are you have been to a farmers market in your life so I won’t go into too much detail. The benefit here is you can select the items you want and talk to the actual people who grew them. The food is fresher, in season, and generally more nutritious. Most farmers markets are organic (though not all!). You can always ask the farmer how the food was grown.
A CSA may be less familiar to you. In this model, you pledge a certain amount of money to a farm (along with other members) at the beginning of the growing season, usually in early Spring. The farmer uses this money to purchase the items necessary to grow food, and every week during the growing season, you pick up a box overflowing with whatever is ripe!
The positives here are for the farmer. You support the farm no matter what happens (if tragedy strikes and crops are ruined, they already have your money). This also means you may get surprises — things you didn’t plan on and don’t even know what they are! For some this is the big drawback — no choice. But for others it can be a truly rewarding culinary adventure! Just how do you prepare kohlrabi…
Finally, most pickup locations are at farmers markets or community centers, so it is a nice way to connect not only with the farmers that grew your food but the fellow consumers who are supporting your farm!
The Grocery Store: Part 1
Beyond growing your own food or supporting farmers nearby that do, your next option is to venture into the supermarket. This option is decidedly varied, running the gamut from an organic food coop to your local chain or big box store.
I won’t go into detail on the difference between these stores, but merely will point out that the safest products in the grocery store are whole plant foods — this means the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
These items are the least processed, which means the least chance for contamination. They are also the least controversial, since they generally don’t exploit animals to reach your store. There are still issues of pesticides on conventional produce and migrant farmworkers rights to muddy the waters, but without a doubt these products are still safer than the alternative. Which leads me to…
The Grocery Store: Part 2
The least safe items for purchase are processed foods and animal products. These are the most likely to support some for of exploitation, be that of the animal or the farmworker. They are without question the most likely to be detrimental to your health. And their ecological footprint is embarrassing at best.
Steer clear of these foods if you want to avoid the shame of supporting a dirty industry!
Restaurants and Fast Food
I’ll just quickly mention these final two eating options, as they are more and more increasing in popularity. As restaurants are businesses, and businesses exist to maximize the bottom line, chances are really good that the ingredients being used in these establishments were the cheapest source, meaning the lowest quality. This is by no means true across the board, and if you can find a farm to table restaurant that sources local organic foods, go for it.
But most restaurants will choose the cheapest ingredients possible, meaning red label seafood, factory farmed animals and animal products, and conventional produce. You are most likely to consume the least healthy meals in these settings, adding to the reasons to avoid them. Not to mention the added cost.
I am not saying you can’t ever eat out, I am merely saying that on the food safety continuum, these places rank low.
So there you have it
From your own garden to farmers markets and CSAs, all the way down to your local McDonald’s, where you buy your food matters. If you want to avoid animal suffering, worker exploitation, health detriments, and ecological catastrophes, eat as much as you can from the first two categories. Then supplement whatever is left with whole plant foods from the grocery store!
Happy (safe) eating!
There is SO much conflicting advice on the internet it can be so easy to just throw your hands up and say “ah forget it, NO ONE knows what we should be eating!”
The reality is we actually know pretty well the optimal diet for human beings. And it is one based on whole plant foods. There will be arguments between vegans and paleos forever about whether or not well-raised animal products can also be on the plate, but let’s keep the message POSITIVE!
Here are the 10 foods you should eat every single day. No matter what! If you want health and weight loss, adding these 10 every single day will do you wonders 🙂